A growth in the use of crystal quartz to make tools thousands of years ago shows the sophistication of ancient communities, ...
The mineral was chosen because of its powerful symbolism, even though it involved painstaking work and other materials that would have been easier to use were available to prehistoric toolmakers, archaeologists argue.
Archaeologists have found there was a sudden spike in the number of tiny hand-made tools of less than 1cm made of crystal quartz in southern Africa around 14,000 years ago.
People could have used chert, which was more durable and found locally, but they may have chosen crystal quartz because it has several unique properties including as a source of light when it is struck and as a source of sharp cutting edges. Communities may have engaged with crystal quartz because they saw material as "alive" and believed they were able to harness the power from the mineral to see into the future.
Pargeter, Justin, and Jamie Hampson. “Quartz Crystal Materiality in Terminal Pleistocene Lesotho.” Antiquity 93, no. 367 (2019): 11–27.
The motivations of prehistoric hunter-gatherers for selecting particular lithic raw materials are often explained in rigidly functional or symbolic terms. By examining the exploitation of crystal quartz at two Terminal Pleistocene rockshelter sites (Ntloana Tšoana and Sehonghong) in Lesotho, southern Africa, the authors reveal that lithic reduction required a form of engagement unique to that material's specific properties. The preferential use of quartz crystals—irrespective of the availability of a wider range of raw materials—demonstrates agency and variability in the technological decisions.